Published: Tue, December 18, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

‘Christmas comet’ - the year’s brightest - to pass by Earth this weekend

‘Christmas comet’ - the year’s brightest - to pass by Earth this weekend

Along with the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids and comets, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office partners with other US government agencies, university-based astronomers and space science institutes across the country. It is a member of the Jupiter family of comets - their farthest point from the sun being near the orbit of Jupiter. This article by Rao gives you more details about where to look, depending on when you are able to go outside for the show.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen now resides among the background stars of Taurus the Bull, between the magnificent Pleiades star cluster (M45) and the 1st-magnitude star Aldebaran.

The Christmas Comet's technical name is 46P/Wirtanen, discovered in 1948 by Carl Wirtanen. It could also be bright enough for people to see with the naked eye.

Stargazers will be treated to celestial Christmas season light displays when a meteor shower and comet pass over the Earth this week.

Astronomer Joseph Rao said it would be possible to see it, but the comet will be very hard to spot.

Cooper said the nucleus of the comet, which passed about every seven years, is only a few kilometres wide, but the halo is hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Look up with a pair of binoculars between twilight and sunrise. Check to figure out the best time in your part of the world. The live feed here is provided by the Virtual Telescope Project, and will begin at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT). Bodewits said the comet should be relatively easy to find for viewers who are in a dark spot. The comet is now well up in the southern sky around 10 p.m., but may be seen in the southeastern sky earlier in the evening.

Comet 46P was originally chosen by the European Space Agency to land the Rosetta probe on its surface, but launch delays caused a new target to be selected. The campaign, led by the University of Maryland, has worldwide participation across the professional and amateur astronomical communities.

I've long considered comets to be the most fascinating objects in the heavens.

In that time, the comet will have gradually moved towards the northern sky. "These are both important because they inform us what ices made up the building blocks of our solar system, and how they were altered by light and radiation from the Sun". "When these things come in and we get a chance to study them, we're seeing some of the raw materials out of which the Earth and the other planets and everything else formed".

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